The Rules of Political Advertising

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that we’re in a presidential election year. Prepare yourself for political advertising to take over your TV … and everywhere else for that matter. But for today, let’s just focus on TV.

The 2020 elections are expected to set another ad spending record. Kantar Media estimates that political ads could reach $6 billion, while Group M estimates it will reach $10 billion.

Political advertising can be difficult to navigate. Even if you aren’t buying political ads, big political years can affect how you buy non-political media and can destroy schedules if you don’t plan for it.

If you don’t live and breathe advertising, you may be wondering what the rules are for political advertising. Read on!

The Rules of Political Media Buying

The rules surrounding political advertising are vast and can be difficult to understand. It’s important to note that the following rules are not a comprehensive list and will vary depending on the type of office each candidate is running for.

By no means are we going to cover all of the rules here – it would take far too long to work through all the variables, and we certainly don’t want to bore you! But here are the major things you should know:

Rule#1: Stations must accept ads from candidates for federal offices, but they do not have to accept state or local candidates’ advertising.

  • However, if the station accepts advertising from a local or state candidate, they should be prepared to accept it from that candidate’s opponent.
  • Most stations choose to accept political advertising because of the revenue it brings to the station.

Rule #2: Federal candidates are entitled to the lowest rates in the “class” of time they purchase, which is referred to as LUR/LUC. If the station chooses to accept local and state candidates, they tend to give them the same consideration.

  • As an example, let’s say a station has a published political rate card that offers three “classes” of time for the morning news day part, based on the likelihood of preemption (the station’s ability to bump the buyer’s spot for another, higher-paying advertiser)
    • Class 1: Fixed non preemptible: $1,000
    • Class 2: Preemptible with prior notification: $750
    • Class 3: Immediately preemptible: $500
  • If a station is sold out with regular advertisers in Class 3 (the most preemptible), the station can charge a political candidate Class 2 prices to clear the order and preempt another advertiser who purchased in Class 3.
  • If the station has inventory available, then the candidate can order at Class 3 and be cleared. Here’s the kicker, though – if the station has an advertiser paying $450 for the news, the candidate is entitled to the $450 rate, because it’s the LUR/LUC. In this example, a station will code any rate from $1 to $749 as a Class 3. So, whatever rate on the books is the lowest for that class is the rate that the candidate is entitled to pay if the station has the inventory to sell.
  • It’s important to note regarding the LUR/LUC regulation that political candidates are entitled to the lowest unit rate in the class of time they are purchasing (1, 2 or 3) in political protection periods only. These periods are 45 days prior to a primary and 60 days prior to a general election.

Rule #3: Political ads can be preempted

  • In the above scenario, let’s say the qualifying political candidate has purchased the late news at $450 and is coded in the station’s system at Class 3. Another advertiser wants to get on the air and is willing to pay $750 (Class 2 – or the next highest “class”) in order to run. In this case, the candidate can be preempted.
  • Conversely, the political candidate will likely not be preempted for another advertiser in the same “class” (so for $450 from another advertiser, the station will normally avoid preempting the candidate).
  • Stations tend not to want to preempt political schedules, and it is generally easier to preempt non-political ads.

Rule #4: Political Action Committees and Party Committees are not given the same consideration as candidates when it comes to LUR/LUC.

The rules of political advertising

Rule #5: All political advertising must include some form of sponsorship identification.

  • When a political ad is run, there must be a statement that the ad was “paid for” or “sponsored by” the group or person actually purchasing the ad time. This is true of all political ads. For TV specifically, the statement must be visual, run for at least four seconds and occupy at least four percent of the screen.
  • Ads for federal candidates also must meet a variety of additional requirements.

Dig a Little Deeper

As noted, this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. But if this has piqued your interest and you want to know more, visit the Federal Communications Commission website. Learn more about how much each of our current candidates is spending on political advertising. (See graphic below)

U.S. election candidate spending 2020

Source: Spending includes TV, radio and digital spending from Kantar/CMAG. TV and radio spending include broadcast TV, local/regional cable and satellite TV, radio and Spanish-language local TV. Digital includes Facebook and Google properties. Spending allocated to Iowa in these tables excludes digital. Buys are included from Jan. 1, 2019, through Election Day, including advance bookings as of Jan. 21, 2020. All other includes spending by candidates who have dropped out of the race. Spending for Tom Steyer includes Act Now on Climate Change and Need to Impeach. Spending for Donald Trump includes Committee to Defend the President and Judicial Crisis Network. Spending by Tulsi Gabbard in Iowa was less than $500,000. The Iowa caucuses are Feb. 3, 2020

BIG YAM Media Placement

Let us take care of the in’s and out’s of media buying for you during this political year. Check out our Media Placement page to learn more.